Make the road by walking

Life experiences, personal relationships, childhood memories, visual artistic expressions – the smells, tastes, sights, and sounds of daily life… the musicians who I am connected to most have this in their music. It can be explicit or it may be implicit – but you can feel it. Can I hear your story in your music? Am I telling my story in my music?

As musicians/artists/humans, it is our ultimate goal to “find our own voice”. Finding one’s voice is a seemingly endless journey. It is a lifelong pursuit and a beautiful struggle of self discovery. We spend years listening, analyzing, emulating, studying, and we hope that the end result is that a unique identity develops. I often think of Clark Terry’s famous “Three Steps” to learning the art of improvisation, “Imitate, Assimilate, and Innovate”. This is a complete yet simple distillation of the process we spend our entire careers grappling with. In 2017, we have a universe of music to choose from; limitless paths of discovery – so which direction to choose?

I have swung back and forth wildly (mostly in my own mind), struggling with my identity as a musician – going through phases like an adolescent going through puberty. I have great admiration (jealousy?) for musicians who are secure in who they are. Am I playing enough bebop? Too much bebop? Too angular? Too weird? Not weird enough? Do most musicians struggle with this? I feel like I am beginning to get a grip on these questions, however. It is ok to like Barry Harris AND Cecil Taylor, Clifford Brown AND Don Cherry (who hung out btw), Charlie Parker AND Ornette Coleman, and the result of that might help me to “be me” or you to “be you”.

I once had a very important lesson in which the teacher told me not to leave out any influences from my music. “What do you like?”. The point being, if you enjoy certain types Screen Shot 2017-03-25 at 7.49.11 PMof music (rock, pop, hip hop, polka, etc) you shouldn’t try and stifle those influences. “Let it all come through”, I was told. I took that bit of advice very seriously and it was incredibly reassuring, comforting and validating – especially considering the source was someone I respected so much. This was something I had already been thinking about and trying to exemplify in my music. It takes courage to “be you” and oftentimes we get in our own way.

To borrow a phrase from friend and author Todd Lazarski, we “Make the road by walking.” This phrase passes through my mind regularly.

It’s very important to have non-musical influences I think. You try to put your life experiences in your art no matter what. This is true of anything. Your social life, your romantic life, what you love in general, you know, the stuff you hate, all that stuff should somehow be in the music, or what you do as an artist for sure.
-Ethan Iverson

from  The Bad Plus: On Jazz, Humility, and Finding Your Voice by Todd Anderson

“Not leaving anything out” goes beyond musical influences. Life experiences, personal
relationships, childhood memories, visual artistic expressions – the smells, tastes, sights, and sounds of daily life… the musicians who I am connected to most have this in their music. It can be explicit or it may be implicit – but you can feel it. Can I hear your story in your music? Am I telling my story in my music? I have a need to surround myself, in both study and in performance, with music and musicians that have this personal quality.

Ultimately, it is about the journey not the destination. Never be satisfied, always be searching, and keep pushing. Like LeVar Burton said, “…You don’t have to take my word for it.”

“I’m trying to play the truth of what I am. The reason it’s difficult is ’cause I’m changing all the time.
-Charles Mingus

“My music is the spiritual expression of what I am: my faith, my knowledge, my being.”
-John Coltrane

“The real innovators did their innovating by just being themselves.”
-Count Basie

“Music is your experience, your thoughts, your wisdom. If you don’t live it, it won’t come out of your horn.”
-Charlie Parker

“When it comes to music, don’t lie to yourself; just tell yourself the truth.”
-Art Blakey

“Forget about upholding the tradition and just play who you really are.”
-Terence Blanchard

“When people believe in boundaries, they become part of them.”
-Don Cherry

“A chimpanzee could learn what I do physically, but it goes way beyond that. When you play, you play life.”
-Jaco Pastorius

“I find my inspiration in myself.”
-Thelonious Monk

“Your humanity is your instrument.”
-Wayne Shorter

A Conversation with Berkeley Fudge

Nov 10, 2015
transcribed by Lauren Miller

Berkeley Fudge is a veteran performer who has appeared with Sonny Stitt, Lena Horne, Gene Ammons, Roland Kirk, Don Patterson, Ruth Brown, Esther Phillips, The Impressions, The O’Jays, Bobby Vee, Thelma Houston, Lonnie Smith, and Richard Davis. He had served as artist in residence at Marquette University and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. In addition to having taught at the Milwaukee Area Technical College, has had served as the Milwaukee Jazz Experience’s Director of Music Activities and an instructor for their Central City Jazz Ensemble as well as Music Director for the YWCA Global Career Academy. As leader of the Berkeley Fudge Quartet, he received the 2001 WAMI (Wisconsin Area Music Industry) Award for Best Traditional Jazz Performer and Milwaukee Arts Board’s Outstanding Artist of the Year in 2003. Mr. Fudge was a faculty member of the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music from 1972-2010, was a member of We Six and can be heard on the 2005 CD “Bird Say”.

In this interview, Berkeley Fudge (BF), Jamie Breiwick (JB), Adekola Adedapo (AA), Mark Davis (MD)

That’s where the players were… the young guys. Ever since there has been music. It was always the young guys that were doing it.

JB: Did you get to know Rashaan (Roland Kirk) pretty well when he was here?

BF: Knew him real good.

JB: Did you guys hang out, like practice together or play together ever?

BF: I would sit in with him, you know, because he came with Chuck Christopher, the alto player, and Don Richardson.

JB: Okay, I haven’t heard those names before.

BF: He was from a part of Canada.

JB: From Canada?

BF: Yeah.

JB: Manty told me about him, I think.

BF: The drummer was, ah… Rodger Rhodes was the bass player.

JB: Rodger Rhodes? Ok.

Continue reading “A Conversation with Berkeley Fudge”

What have I learned from Ornette Coleman?

“The pattern for the tune will be forgotten, and the tune itself will be the pattern.”
-Ornette Coleman (from Ornette Coleman, A Harmolodic Life)

To me, there are certain musicians who deserve specific attention… who require deliberate study.  — The controversial, the innovative and the revolutionary — If we made a “Mount Rushmore” of jazz icons, these would be the faces carved in stone: Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Bird/Dizzy/Monk/Bud, Miles Davis, John Coltrane and certainly Ornette Coleman. Each one made their place by breaking away from previously established conventions and each one providing us with a lifetime of lessons. Despite furious criticism about his unorthodox music & appearance, Ornette pushed forward with deliberate force, making his own way.ornette_downbeat

What I have learned from Ornette Coleman?

  • Never forget the blues/swing.
  • Always be yourself & be relentless in pursuing your vision.
  • The most gentle souls are sometimes the most ferocious artists.
  • Exploring music is also exploring yourself.
  • Honor your influences without neglecting your voice.
  • Melody is king.
  • Different shouldn’t be threatening.
  • Tell a story.
  • We create our own boundaries and our own categories, which only hold us back.
  • Search. Find your path, and follow it.
  • Use music as a conduit to the discovery of one’s self.
  • Harmony can be self-created.
  • It’s ok to be playful, humor in music is a wonderful thing.
  • Simplicity is difficult, but the goal.

“We’ve all gained from Ornette’s life and explorations.”
-Sonny Rollins

Barry Harris on the importance of Thelonious Monk

Barry Harris, piano

I tell some of the young kids in order to be a jazz musician you have to play a Monk song. You don’t play a Monk song, I feel there’s something funny about you being a jazz musician. I had to tell one piano player that, he was in Washington. We had to do this Monk thing…he plays one and he had little bits of Monk in there, you know. It was quite odd… because Monk wrote so many pretty songs. I tell you. What’s this one?..

Light Blue, Thelonious Monk
Pannonica, Thelonious Monk

On the last A, Jon Hendricks said…
Delicate things such as butterfly wings
poets can’t describe, though they try
Love played a tune, when she stepped from her cocoon… Pannonica, my lovely, Pannonica my butterfly.

– Barry Harris

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A Conversation with Victor Campbell, part One

Victor Campbell. He has lent his sound to many of Milwaukee’s finest musical organizations for years and is a direct link to many of the masters of Black American Music. His sound is deeply rooted in the West African and  Afro Caribbean traditions. Victor’s teachers and mentors read as a who’s-who of jazz and latin icons. He cites Freddie Waits, Richard Davis, Teddy Dunbar, Eddie Baker, Max Roach, Art Blakey, Billy Cobham, Roy Haynes, Elvin Jones, Herman Matthews , Alan Dawson, Joey Hereida, John Santos, Chief Bey, Mamdy Keita, Giovanni Hidalgo, and Famoudou Konate, to name a few.

His performance credits, indeed reflect the breadth of his knowledge and ability: Lachazz, Manty Ellis, Berkeley Fudge, Will Green, Willie Higgins, Eddie Gozmels, Carlos Santana, The KO-THI Dance Company, Brian Lynch, Delfeayo Marsalis, Craig Handy, Ron Blake, Eddie Mathews, Paul Robeson, Frank Morgan, Bobby Broom, Ronald Mulgrew, Melvin Rhyne, Wes Anderson, Ron Blake, Craig Handy, Nicholas Payton, The Coasters, The Drifters, The Platters, Ray Blue, Roberto Vizcaino, Tim Ries (Rolling Stones), members of Batacumbele, Richie Cole, Gray Richrath (REO Speed wagon.), George Braith, Von Freeman, Richard Davis, Jerry Gonzalez, Eddie Rodriguez, Bob Crawshaw, Jeff Littlton, West African drummers such as Mamdy Keita, Mor Thiam, Chief Bey, Famoudou Konate, Mar, DouDou N. Daye Rose.

Victor and I sat down over a burger and a beer on the evening of October 13th, 2015 at Mason Street Grill.

Victor Campbell: I am still trying to find… there is a article…

Jamie Breiwick: yeah, you mentioned that. I haven’t had a chance to dig too deep to find that one.

VC: Yeah. From… its got to be anywhere, I was… 8th grade? Going into high school. Tony King, Manty Ellis, Jabbo Smith, ah… somebody else. I think Martha Artis. When this article came out, it was on the front page. I had it, but it got destroyed in a flood.

JB: Its got to be in there somewhere. The google news archive has newspapers dating back to the 1890’s… every newspaper, almost. Its got to be in there.

VC: Its got to be there.

Mark Davis: When do you think that was? You said you were in high school?

VC: Yeah, 1970 to 1974.

MD: Where did you go to high school?

VC: Homestead. Yeah.

JB: So, talk about how you got interested in music. Was it in your family? Or was there a particular teacher? Or?

VC: Well, my dad got me into music. Three things he got me into: Green Bay Packers, music, and sports. Music was first, Green Bay Packers was second… When I was six, I remember this so well, sitting in the living room and he had on Miles Davis, “All Blues” and he told me, he said, “You sat through the whole song. You didn’t move till the song was done.” Then he said, “You got up and you took off, but you had a look on your face, like…” (raises eyebrows) *laughs Continue reading “A Conversation with Victor Campbell, part One”

Inspiration and humanity in music

My own feelings about the direction in which jazz should go are that there should be much less stress on technical exhibitionism and much more on emotional content, on what might be termed humanity in music and the freedom to say all that you want.

— Booker Little

I think we have all have had experiences of pure inspiration in music. These moments leave us with much to think about regarding our own directions and ideas about music and life. One such experience… I feel so blessed and humbled to have had the opportunity to play with pianist/composer Arturo O’ Farrill and alto saxophonist David Bixler. I must admit, I had been more aware of Mr. O’ Farrill’s work as an arranger and bandleader, not as much as a pianist. After hearing the first notes he pulled out of that well-worn piano at the Jazz Estate, however, I and everyone else in the room was well aware of the magnitude of this incredible musician. We played a mix of charts I brought in, and some of Mr. O’ Farrill’s originals. After getting a chance to talk with Arturo for a bit on the break(s) and after the gig, I came to a few realizations/re-affirmations:

1) I had never really heard anyone sound like this on the piano. What I was hearing was a unique voice, void of recycled cliches, licks, patterns, etc. Yet at the same time, I could hear the entire history of the piano from Art Tatum through Brad Mehldau. It is ok to be yourself, after understanding your place/role in the tradition. Vis a vis the great Coltrane quote: “I’ve found you’ve got to look back at the old things and see them in a new light.” It is important to possess a vast library of vocabulary that can be delivered eloquently, intelligently, originally, and authentically. 

2) Humility is an essential element in maintaining growth as a musician. Here is a musician playing as much music on the piano as I have ever heard in person…. and he is as gracious, courteous, and open minded as can be. There is NO room for ego, pretentiousness, attitude in this music (and in life). The only way to improve as a musician (and as a person), is to acknowledge your shortcomings and to address your weaknesses. 

3) It’s about what you say AND how you say it. I am reminded of a particular performance with a good friend. As we were about to begin the set,  he leans over to me and says “Alright now, no licks!”. Much easier said than done for certain… Actually, this was really difficult and I certainly played plenty of them that night. However it caused me to think very deliberately, “I am going to really try and say something and say it with some force and some depth and some meaning and some direction.”